The author of a new book titled The End of the Suburbs suggests the American suburbs will change in response to several threats:
Q: So which demons are breathing down suburbia’s neck?
A: There’s a lot. To begin with, the nuclear family, which filled our suburban houses, is no longer the norm — marriage and birthrates are steadily declining, while the number of single-person households is growing rapidly. If the demand for good schools and family-friendly lifestyles has historically been the main selling point of suburban life, those things aren’t going to matter so much in the future.
Another thing is that Americans are just sick of driving. They’re sick of commuting. The number of miles driven per year is in decline. And the cost of gasoline has meant that homes on the suburban fringe are not such a bargain.
At the same time, cities, in general, are making a comeback, especially among young adults and even among families with children.
Q: Among the factors you write about in the book, which one is the biggest influence?
A: One of the things that’s the most potent of all of these factors is the demographic situation — the birthrate is falling, the marriage rate is falling, the nuclear family is rapidly becoming a minority household type in this country — 70 percent of households won’t have any children in them by 2025. When you look at those figures and the way our population is changing so dramatically, it hits home — we have built all these houses for a type of household that isn’t going to exist anymore.
But on the question of what happens to the suburbs, the author then goes on to suggest they won’t completely disappear as they will still appeal to a segment of the market.
A few things to note:
1. Critics have suggested the end of the suburbs for decades now. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t decline or disappear in the future; it just means plenty of people have made this prediction.
2. Perhaps the most important thing for the future of the suburbs is whether the adaptations to these threats take place within the suburbs or in cities. For example, there is already a push to more density within suburbs that might approximate more urban conditions without having to actually be in cities. These denser pockets would limit driving and also possibly provide different kinds of housing.
3. Her suggestion about the changing household composition is intriguing: see this earlier post about Going Solo in the suburbs.